The Demon Rears its Head in Ray City

Demon Alcohol

Georgia passed state Prohibition in 1907, with Ray City’s own Jonathan Perry Knight among those leading the charge, and did not repeal it until 1935.

According to the New Georgia Encyclopedia,

“An 1885 statute granted voters the right to impose prohibition in the county where they lived. By 1907 most counties had voted themselves dry. That same year the state legislature enacted mandatory statewide prohibition, one of the moral reforms demanded by Progressives throughout the South. The Atlanta race riot of 1906 probably encouraged the enactment of prohibition;”

[Racist newspapers controlled by Georgia’s leading politicians incited white mob violence  against Atlanta’s African American residents with lurid and unsubstantiated allegations of assaults by black men on white women – assaults which were blamed on black saloon goers.]

 “whites feared the consequences of African Americans’ drinking, and furthermore, white mobs originated in bars and saloons.”

The new law went into effect in 1908. For a time the legislature offered the “wets” some loopholes—near-beer saloons serving low-alcohol drinks were permitted, as were alcoholic beverages in locker-clubs—but these were closed in 1915. Georgia ratified the Eighteenth Amendment for national prohibition three years later. It did not vote for repeal of national prohibition, but after that occurred, Georgia repealed its own statewide prohibition in 1935.”

Prohibition didn’t stop drinking in Ray City. You might say it was a Wiregrass tradition. Prior to the state prohibition, alcohol was widely produced in Georgia. Wiregrass pioneers brewed their own farm beverages – wine, buck, cane beer, or liquor. On court days, liquor was an expected stapleNumerous toasts were drunk at social events. In the days of old Lowndes County, before Berrien County was formed, the county seat at Troupville was considered a wild and wicked town…with much drinking.  Licenses for legal, market production of liquor were issued by the state.  In the late 1870s even Nashville, GA had its own whiskey distillery.

After Prohibition passed there were still plenty of “blind tigers” running stills and selling liquor in Berrien County, despite the efforts of lawmen like Jim Griner, Bruner Shaw and Cauley Shaw.   In 1919,  reports of drunkenness and lawlessness in Ray City were making newspapers throughout the section.

Bootleg alcohol in Berrien County, 1919.

Bootleg alcohol in Berrien County, 1919.

Tifton Gazette
March 14, 1919, Page 2

The Demon Rears Its Head.

        This from the Valdosta Times: “People who came in from Ray City the past day or two said that some of the carousing element in that locality have been having some lively times during the past few days. They had gotten hold of a lot of moonshine liquor, the kind that simple makes a man forget himself and everything else. There were several free fights and a good deal of threatening and a considerable amount of gun play. The lifely times reached their climax about last Thursday night. Things have been getting quieter since then.”
        Perhaps for many communities throughout South Georgia this would be an apt description of affairs. Certainly the illicit manufacture of whiskey has brought about a situation worse than existed while whiskey was legally sold in the state.
        The stuff made in practically every community and sold at such prices that the traffic yields immense profits is said to be of such character that it not only robs men of reason but robs them of health as well containing so much potash as to be little short of poison. Perhaps present conditions are only transitory, but certainly they are bad. They may readjust themselves after awhile, but prompt and vigorous measures will do much toward bringing this readjustment about.

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